Cultural Spotlight: Belgium

 

Written by Jenny Goldade

 

Here in America and in most of Canada, we have funeral traditions that have stood the test of time for decades, even centuries.

 

But our traditions are vastly different from those in other countries and cultures.

 

This article looks at Belgian funeral traditions and is part of a series that highlights how different cultures care for their dead. Other parts of the series are about Bulgarian funeral traditions and Portuguese funeral traditions, among others.

 

Note, these traditions may vary depending on the individual and their own beliefs.

 

Belgian Wake

Before the funeral, there’s a wake with an open casket for close family and friends to view the deceased. For many Belgian people, family is their top priority, so it’s important they have this time to say their respects. Families also remain close geographically, as many people stay in the town they grew up in.

 

Belgian Funeral

Christianity is the most common religion in Belgium with 65% of the population as of 2012. Therefore, a Belgian funeral typically includes a Christian Mass and the rosary prayer. Masses also may occur throughout the year following the death to honor and remember the deceased.

 

Food is typically served, such as Simnel cake or “soul bread.” Friends and neighbors also may give food or other gifts to the grieving family. When giving flowers, they give them in an odd number, but never thirteen. Also, people typically only give liquor and wine as gifts to close family and friends.

 

Burial or Cremation

Both burial and cremation are common in Belgium along with a funeral procession to the cemetery. However, embalming isn’t usually practiced, unless it’s a special circumstance such as if the body needs to be transported internationally. If someone’s cremated, the ashes are either buried, kept by the family, or scattered on the cemetery lawn or in the water.

 

Mourning Period

While mourning, close family members may wear dark or black clothes and refrain from attending social events for a while. Traditionally, families tied a black ribbon on the door of the deceased home and men in the family wore black armbands. However, this custom isn’t as common today.

 

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